8 ex-senators: Let De Lima join Senate sessions via teleconferencing

MANILA, Philippines – Eight former senators signed a statement in support of a move in the Senate to include detained Senator Leila de Lima in Senate sessions through electronic communications.

These ex-senators were former President Benigno Aquino III, Wigberto "Bobby" Tañada, Francisco "Kit" Tatad, Rene Saguisag, Sergio Osmeña III, Mar Roxas, Antonio Trillanes IV, and Paolo Benigno "Bam" Aquino IV. 

They said De Lima's detention was keeping her from performing her duties as a senator.

"We support any any similar initiative to enable Senator De Lima to vote on key bills and resolutions tabled in the plenary sessions, to participate in important meetings and caucuses with her fellow senators, and to personally conduct public hearings of her committee within Camp Crame in Quezon City," the statement said.

In late July, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senator Panfilo Lacson filed Senate Resolution No. 51 to allow the participation of De Lima in plenary debates and committee hearings via teleconferencing, video conferencing, and similar methods.

Even though the Senate leadership supported the move, the resolution is still pending in the committee level weeks after it was filed.

The former senators said they understand the importance of participating in the debates within the Senate halls as part of lawmaking.

"We hope that relevant authorities will take the necessary steps, including possible adjustments in parliamentary rules and regulations in the custodial center, with provisions for necessary facilities and other appropriate arrangements, to address these matters for as long as Senator De Lima remains in detention while a member of the Philippine Senate," the statement said.

The former senators also added that permission from the courts should be secured, if needed.

They said that allowing De Lima to conduct her role as a senator, even remotely, is "to pay respect to the mandate of more than 14 million Filipinos who voted into her office, in keeping with the spirit and tradition of the Philippine Senate as a collegial and deliberative body."

In a letter sent to Rappler, De Lima said that she hopes her colleagues would approve the resolution soon.

"I fervently hope that it materializes soon, so that I will be able to join the interpellations, and defend and sponsor measures," De Lima said.

Lawmakers joining Senate sessions through teleconferencing is not new. When Trillanes was detained, an equipment was bought so that he can participate plenary debates through electronic communications. Lacson said the equipment could be used again.

De Lima has been detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in Camp Crame since her arrest over drug charges in February 2017. She maintains that the charges are a form of political persecution as she is a fierce critic of President Rodrigo Duterte. – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.